First, what is the PSAT? The “P” stands for preliminary, and this test is a preview of the SAT (containing three sections--Reading, Writing & Language, and Math). It’s a slightly shorter version of the SAT: fifteen fewer questions and only 2 hours and 45 minutes. This optional test is offered at most high schools and costs $17 (which may be covered by some schools).
The PSAT is a good introduction to standardized testing in general and to the tricky nature of the SAT. With its scores ranging from 320-1520, each section--Verbal and Math--is scored from a 160-760 scale. These PSAT scores are visible to high schools and scholarship programs but will not be sent to colleges.
There are three kinds of PSATs: PSAT 8/9 (designed for eighth/ninth graders), PSAT 10 (designed for tenth graders), and the PSAT/NMSQT (designed for eleventh graders).
The PSAT/NMSQT (which stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is the test we’ll be focusing on below.
Reasons to Take the PSAT/NMSQT
Gain Exposure to Standardized Tests--This PSAT/NMSQT is a good introduction to the SAT and standardized tests in general, exposing students to difficult multiple choice questions and timed testing. The PSAT establishes a helpful baseline score for the student and aids in setting realistic goals for the SAT.
Scholarship Opportunities--Taking the PSAT/NMSQT as a junior makes students eligible for the National Merit Scholarship (NMS) program, which awards 8,700 scholarships each year. If you do not take the PSAT/NMSQT, then you will not qualify for the NMS program. This test also makes you eligible for other scholarship programs, such as the National Hispanic Recognition Program, National Scholarship Service, and Telluride Seminar Scholarships.
Reasons Not to Take the PSAT/NMSQT
Readiness--The difficulty level of the PSAT/NMSQT content is geared toward juniors, which means taking this test as a sophomore or freshman may result in low scores. While getting low PSAT scores does not directly affect a student’s college application, low PSAT scores can impact a student’s testing confidence and/or influence the way a high school or college counselor guides the student. Additionally, taking the PSAT/NMSQT as a sophomore (or below) does not qualify you for the National Merit Scholarships.
Burnout--Since the ACT and SAT scores directly impact a student’s college application, it can be beneficial to take the ACT or SAT more than once. Initially, many students take the ACT or SAT during their junior year and then have the space to retake it, if needed, senior year. If a student is trying to avoid burnout and take the fewest number of standardized tests possible, then taking the PSAT may feel unnecessary and like a waste of energy.
Ultimately, whether a student should take the PSAT depends on the individual student’s set of circumstances. Sometimes, high schools take the decision out of your hands and require the PSAT/NMSQT junior year.
If you decide the PSAT/NMSQT is for your student and want to maximize their chances at qualifying for a National Merit Scholarship, then let us know. We do PSAT prep in addition to our ACT & SAT Test prep
The upcoming PSAT/NMSQT is October 16, 2019 with 2 alternate October testing dates. To register, contact your school.